HC Deb 02 July 1868 vol 193 cc561-71

Order for Committee read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."


said, he hoped the House would not think that he was going to offer a factious opposition to the Bill. It was not a party Bill, and it was not a Bill which could affect any individual Member; but it was simply a Bill to accelerate the registration of the voters in the country. But that was not the sole point for the House to consider. They were there to consider whether it was wise and prudent that a Bill of that kind should be passed for this specific year, and whether it would have the effect, which all wished, of placing on the register those whom they had admitted to the franchise. If the Bill was passed, it would prevent a large number of those whom they wished to enfranchise from getting that franchise, and there would be a universal cry when they met in December or January by those who were returned that their constituents were not fairly represented. The result would be that another election would loom in the distance, and he knew not if that was their wish. The Bill provided that the registration should be completed by the end of October. The elections were to take place in November, and they are to meet there in December. For what purpose? Simply to decide whether the Gentlemen opposite should sit on that side, and whether those who sat on that side shall go to the opposite Benches. Whether that was to take place time would show. If the registration was not complete it would matter little whether they met in January or December. Let them consider the complicated nature of the Bill. There was the compound-householder, a gentleman whom they thought dead and buried, but who, nevertheless would make alterations in the new registry necessary. There was also the lodger franchise, and he believed that in towns where 30,000 or 40,000 would be added to the register that register would not be complete. He knew something of the towns, and he ventured to say that November was a very bad month for the elections. He believed it would be altogether a false move if they were to hurry on the registrations now, simply to decide who was to sit on this and who on the other side of the House in November next.


said, if he thought that this Bill would in any way affect the rights of the electors by diminishing their chances of getting upon the register he would not have considered it his duty on the part of the Government to propose it. But those who sat on the Select Committee were satisfied that nothing would be taken away from the rights of voters. The only question was whether sufficient time was allowed for revision. Those who had most considered the question believed there was. He was himself satisfied there was, and therefore he hoped the House would go into Committee.


said, he had a few observations to make on the Bill, which he thought had been but little discussed in the House. He must describe this as a Bill designed to slur over the registration and to hurry on the General Election at the earliest possible period. He dared say that some Gentlemen in that House were anxious to bring on an election; but he had asked himself, and he had asked persons out of that House, what possible object could be gained by the new House of Commons meeting in December. The only answer he could get to the question was this—" If we accept this Bill, and hurry on the elections, the new House of Commons will he able to meet in December, in order to decide which of the two factions in this House shall carry on its Business next Session." That might be a very important matter for those who expected Office; but hon. Gentlemen who were "outsiders" and the public at large did not care one farthing which set of statesmen might conduct the Business of the country during the months of December and January. When Parliament had passed a Bill enabling very large numbers to get themselves placed on the electoral roll, commonsense and prudence would dictate that the registration should be conducted in the most effectual manner. This Bill came before the House with great recommendations. It professed to be a Ministerial Bill; but they all knew under what circumstances it had been brought forward. It had been brought forward under coercion. That was his opinion. There had been a threat made by Gentlemen sitting on the Opposition side that they would withhold the Supplies ["No!"]; but he believed that threat would not have been carried out. The Bill had been subjected to the ordeal of a select Committee. How was that Committee composed? Gentlemen connected with the present Administration served on it. That Administration had been for some time exposed to such taunts from the front Opposition Bench, and the House itself had been in such a state of chronic anarchy, that the retention of Office by its members was almost intolerable. It was on that account that he described the Bill as having been brought in under compulsion. There also sat upon the Committee a number of Gentlemen who had held Office under the late Administration, and who were not at all indisposed to hold Office under that which was coining. He dared say those Gentlemen would not think the drawing of their official salaries so irksome a task as the right hon. Gentleman (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) had considered it during the past few months. ["Question!"] He would not detain them many minutes; but what he had to say he must say out. There sat, then, on the Committee a number of Gentlemen who were very anxious to obtain Office at the very earliest period. Indeed, that anxiety was so great as to lead to the belief that something more than patriotism actuated them when they strove to obtain the meeting of Parliament in December next. Upon the decision of such a Committee he, for one, placed no reliance whatever, knowing, as he did, that there existed no desire at all in unofficial quarters, nor out-of-doors, that Parliament should assemble at so early a date. Now, why should any independent Member on either side of the House go an inch out of his way to bring about a change of Ministers in December instead of six weeks later, in the ordinary course of affairs? What reason had any independent Member to bridge more rapidly than need be the gulf which still yawned between the right hon. Member for South Lancashire and Office? What had kept the right hon. Gentleman out of Office for the last lour or five months? He would himself answer that question with the utmost possible candour. It had been the behest and desire of a very considerable number of Gentlemen on the Opposition side, of whom the right hon. Gentleman was the ostensible Leader. They probably thought, and with justice, that the intellect of the right hon. Gentleman matured much more rapidly in the winter of Opposition than in the summer heat of Office. The House had been in a very excited slate for the last four or five months. There had been in Office a Ministry which did not hold the reins of power. The Executive had been weak, not in ability, but in Parliamentary support. Then there had been a powerful Opposition, numbering at least 350 or 360 heads. If the Opposition had so willed it, they might in the early part of the Session have carried a Vote of Want of Confidence in the Ministry, and the result of such a Vote would have been to transfer the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire and the satellites who surrounded him to the right hand of the Speaker's Chair. What had prevented this from being done, and why had 350 Gentlemen allowed 300 Gentlemen to hold the reins of Office during the whole of the present Session? He would give an explanation of the circumstances. In doing so be should violate no confidence, as he should merely repeat what was openly spoken of and discussed at the Bar, in the Lobbies, in all political coteries, and very probably even in the sacred precincts of Brookes's. It was a well-known fact that there were on the Opposition Benches a number of Gentlemen who were esteemed Members of the Liberal party; but who refused to support a Vote of Want of Confidence in the present Government. In other words, they refused to be parties to any Motion the direct effect of which would be to place the right hon. Member for Lancashire in high Office. ["Question!"] There were scores of Gentlemen opposite who knew what he had stated to be an absolute fact. Those Gentlemen did not deny that the right hon. Member for South Lancashire possessed great abilities; but they distrusted his political sagacity, and were very probably not enamoured of his versatility; they had no confidence in his tact and his power to keep a party together. If, then, the right hon. Gentleman and his Friends had been kept out of Office by the behest and at the dictation of a considerable portion of Her Majesty's Opposition, what possible object could they have in now coming forward and desiring that we should meet next December, in order to determine whether by the new elections the right hon. Gentleman can be placed in the position of First Minister of the Crown. Under these circumstances he should give his vote against the Bill, and if it went into Committee he trusted the House would have an opportunity of discussing it on its merits on the third reading.


said, the Bill would cause so much dissatisfaction that he must protest against it, and vote for the Amendment. For the last two years they had been discussing the desirability of making most important changes in the electoral system, and yet their labours were, after all, to have no fruition, as it were, because those whom it was sought to benefit, would receive no benefit at all, in consequence of the haste with which registration was to be slurred over. In the large towns and counties in the North great inconvenience would be caused, and he wished to point out that if the number of Revising Barristers were doubled, the number of election agents must be doubled also. The time at present allowed for registration was quite short enough, but it was proposed still further to shorten it, and as the Court of Common Pleas did not sit until some time on in the month of November, there would practically be no appeal from the decisions of the Revising Barristers. He did not like the idea of an election in November, for the reason that, as some two hours at least of the polling must take, place in partial, if not entire darkness, it would give great facilities for personations. The question put before the country was whether Catholicism or Protestantism was to have the superiority. ["Oh, oh!"] Members might object to that, so he would say it was whether Ireland was to be pacified or not. It was incumbent on them, therefore, to have a well-selected jury, and to commit the decision of the question to a respectable constituency.


said, he was of opinion that, on the whole, it was much better that this Bill should pass. It was possible that the Bill might be passed in a hurry; but then they would have the advantage of getting a Ministry established sooner. That difficulty even might be got over by the present Ministry resigning at once. The election gentry, et genus omne, might not, perhaps, have so much time to make up their books, and if an autumn Session were inconvenient they would all be there, and the Session would be a very short one. Commercial matters were very much depressed, and that depression would not cease until the General Election was over. It would be better to get the election over, so as to have a fair start again.

Motion, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," agreed to.

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Clauses 1 to 5, inclusive, agreed to.

Clause 6 (Revision of Lists in Counties).


suggested, but did not move, the insertion of words binding the Revising Barristers to commence their operations on the 14th of September next at latest.

Clause agreed to.

Clauses 7 to 28, inclusive, agreed to.

Clause 29 (Application of certain Rating Sections to Counties).


said, that although it had been inserted by the Select Committee, in the spirit of caution which they had very properly exercised in dealing with the measure, he found, on careful examination, that it was quite unnecessary, and might possibly lead to mischief if permitted to remain in the Bill. The clause proposed to make the 30th section of the 2 Will. IV., c. 45, and the 75th section of the Act of 6 & 7 of the Queen, c. 18, the principal Act, applicable "to all cases of occupancy creating a franchise" by last year's Reform Act. But the 56th section of last year's Act made all Registration Acts apply to its provisions, and he feared the retention of this 29th clause would derogate from the full power of that 56th section.


said, that the clause was well-considered by the Committee, and he hoped it would be retained.


thought it would be better to strike out the clause, and give the voters to which it applied the benefit of the general law.


said, it was necessary to omit the clause.

Clause struck out.

Clauses 30 to 34, inclusive, agreed to.

MR. DIXON moved the addition of the following clause:—

(List of voters to be made out by overseers.) That the overseers of every parish or township in any City or Borough may, on or before the last day of July, make out or cause to be made out the lists of all persons who may be entitled to vote in the election of a Member or Members to serve in Parliament for such City or Borough, so far as practicable, in the manner following, viz.:—In the alphabetical order of streets or places in each parish or township, or where such parishes or townships shall have been divided into polling districts, then in the alphabetical order of streets or places in each polling district; the names of voters being arranged in the order in which they appear in each street or place in the rate-books for such parishes or townships.

The effect of the clause would be to make the register an exact copy of the rate-book, the streets being arranged in alphabetical order. At the present time expense is caused by having to re-arrange the rate-book and place the list of voters in alphabetical order. The authorities of Birmingham believe that this labour and expense are quite unnecessary, and they requested him to move the addition of this clause to the Bill, to avoid unnecessary expense, and for the purpose of furthering the objects of the Bill—namely, to save time. By adopting the Resolution there would be a very considerable saving effected for the candidates, because they would otherwise have to re-arrange the list of voters and undo what the overseers had already done. The expense of the operation in Birmingham last year was £250 on one side only, and the total expense was probably £500. The voters would be increased under the new Act, and it was not unreasonable to suppose that this particular item of expenditure would be increased considerably, perhaps trebled, if this clause should not be added to the Bill. The expense thus caused in Birmingham would probably reach £1,000; and one of their objects should be to make the elections as cheap, and not as dear as possible. He had altered the clause since it was first placed on the Notice Paper from "shall" to "may," so that the overseers might not be compelled to make out the lists in alphabetical order in places where it was not wished to put the clause into operation.


said, that the proposal might seem suitable to Birmingham, which was only one parish, but it would cause great confusion in places where a borough contained several parishes. The clause appeared to be framed in order to save the candidate the expense of making out canvassing books. The result of making the clause permissive would be that some overseers would make out the register on one plan and some on the other. He was told that the overseers in some parishes had made considerable progress in preparing the lists for the present year, and they were very anxious that the clause should not pass.


thought that the clause would not work unless it was made imperative, or was added as a power to the overseers in addition to the duty which was now imperative. It would not do to have a permissive clause in substitution of the present duty.


said, he did not think any great difficulty would arise by the overseer carrying out the plan proposed by the clause, or that any serious additional expense would be thrown upon parishes.


said, he thought it would be much easier and cheaper for the overseer to be allowed merely to copy the rate-book, than to be obliged to arrange the list of name3 in alphabetical order.


said, it was necessary at election times that they should be able with facility to turn to the names of the electors, and that could be done only when the list was arranged alphabetically. On the whole, if there was to be a choice between the two methods, it would be better to adhere to the present practice.


said, he thought the plan, if adopted at all, should only be adopted in those boroughs which consisted of one parish or township.

Clause negatived.


rose to move the following new clause:— Where in any Borough the overseers shall, after the twenty-ninth day of September, one thousand eight hundred and sixty-seven, have rated the owner instead of the occupier of any dwelling-house or other tenement, in contravention of 'The Representation of the People Act, 1867,' the occupier of such premises shall, upon duly paying or tendering on or before the twentieth day of July next, the difference, if any, between the amount of poor rate payable on or before the fifth day of January, one thousand eight hundred and sixty-eight, in respect of such premises by such owner, and that which would have been payable by an ordinary occupier thereof, be entitled to be registered as a voter, as fully as if he had been rated and paid all rates in pursuance of the third and seventh sections of the said Act. The clause was very similar to the 30th section of the old Reform Act; and his object in proposing it was to do an act of justice towards a class of occupiers who were fully entitled to be put upon the register. In a parish in his own constituency (East Retford) several hundreds of such men had been omitted from the list, and it was fair to suppose that the same thing might have occurred in other places. His clause would remedy that state of things.


supported the clause proposed by his hon. Colleague, and read a letter from the overseer of Worksop, explaining the circumstances under which between 500 and 600 persons there would be practically disfranchised unless some such clause as that were adopted.


said, it was obvious that the clause was proposed to meet a particular case, and such legislation was always objectionable and dangerous. It was difficult to say whether it would meet that case, and still more difficult to say what its effect would be upon other cases. The persons whose names were said to have been improperly omitted by the overseer had a remedy at the time under the existing statutes, and if they had not then availed themselves of that remedy the passing of the proposed enactment in their favour would be giving them an unfair advantage.


said, that the persons to whom the clause referred ought not to be allowed to suffer from the wrongful act of others. He thought that a good deal was to be said for the proposition that when a man whose landlord paid the composition rate, and himself paid the difference, he should have a vote.


said, there could be no party feeling in this matter. He conceived that it would be injudicious to pass a clause for the sake of one particular borough, for its operations might extend to other cases to which it would be improper to apply it.

Clause negatived.

MR. VILLIERS moved the insertion of the following clause:— (Overseers may cause houses and buildings in streets to be marked with numbers.) The overseers of any parish in England, the population whereof shall exceed ten thousand persons, according to the Census for the time being, may, with the consent of the Poor Law Board, from time to time cause the houses and buildings in all, or any of the streets, to be marked with numbers as they think fit, and the cost shall be chargeable upon and paid out of the monies to be raised for the relief of the poor of any such parish. The right hon. Member said that in the manufacturing districts there were large blocks of houses without any numbers, and streets without any names, the property belonging to owners who, under the Com- pounding Acts, had been rated. Since the Reform Act of last year the compound-householder was done away with; and the clause he proposed would enable overseers to number the houses, so that the occupiers might be identified as the persons entitled to be placed on the register.


said, he thought it would be inconvenient to introduce the clause into the Bill, inasmuch as such a power was already given in the Local Government Act.


said, that the clause was not a fit one to be incorporated in the present Bill, though it might be a very proper one to be inserted in a rating Bill. This clause, besides, would have no operation in the present year with, respect to registration, as the lists were now practically commenced.

Clause negatived.


said, that it would materially interfere with the progress of the proceedings before the Revising Barristers to have a large number of lodgers brought to their Courts to wait and see whether anybody would start up and challenge their votes. As these persons were to have their names in the lists long before the Revising Barristers held their Courts, it was only reasonable that those who wished to challenge the votes of any lodgers should give them notice before the holding of the Registration Courts. He hoped the Home Secretary would consider the expediency of introducing a provision by which notice should be given to lodgers of objections to their claims, without which they should not be compelled to come to the Court.


said, he believed the lodgers were a much more respectable class of people than was at first supposed. He was certain that any clause which compelled the attendance of the lodger at the Court must be amended.


objected to the suggestion. The effect of it would be to repeal a section in the Act of last Session, which had been deliberately adopted after considerable discussion.

MR. BAINES moved a clause to provide that lodgers who may have made a claim duly certified shall be entitled to vote unless notice of objection to his claim had been given to him three clear days before the sitting of the Revising Barrister's Court.


supported the clause.


said, he hoped the clause would not be pressed. The subject was deliberately considered and decided last year, and the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. M'Cullagh Torrens), who was much interested in the question, was then an assenting party to the decision then arrived at.

Clause negatived.

House resumed.

Bill reported; as amended, to be considered To-morrow, at Two of the clock.

House adjourned at half after One o'clock.